Sunday, September 11, 2011

Is Every Day the Same?

Thirteenth Sunday after Pentecost
September 11, 2011

We’re here on this day for a reason. This is the day we have chosen to be here. But even so, is today just another day? Or because we have chosen this as the day to gather here, does that make it a special day? The normal thing in the Christian Church is that the first day of the week, Sunday, is the day we gather for worship.

Some people don’t give it any thought. It’s just the day it is and so that’s that. For some it’s vital that it be this day. Sunday, and no other day. Those who belong, for example, to the Seventh Day Adventists say that we’re wrong in gathering on Sunday for worship, it needs to be Saturday.

Is today a special day, or is it just another day? Furthermore, even as today is a Sunday, our normal day we gather here for worship, in our nation today is also a day that is special as Patriot Day, in which we observe the terrorist attacks on our soil at the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. Even more so, it has special significance because it is the tenth anniversary of that day of infamy.

And with no intention of making light of this day as 9/11, did you know that today is also Grandparents Day (which is always the first Sunday after Labor Day)? And there’s another important thing happening today for a large portion of the population of our country: today is the first full day of the NFL season. In fact, one of the things that occurs at major sporting events in our country is the singing of the National Anthem and also since 9/11, the singing of God Bless America. Even though there’s an equally large portion of the population who couldn’t care less about sports, the fact that many of us gather at large venues for sporting events and sing the national anthem and put our hands over our hearts as we look at the American flag is a symbolic action of the freedom we enjoy in our country.

For some people the most important thing about today is as the observance of 9/11. Many people won’t even know that it’s Grandparents Day. For some people the fact that it’s 9/11, and the tenth anniversary of it no less, isn’t nearly as important to them as it is the start of the new football season. Is it wrong if watching your team play today is more important to you than making a proper observance of 9/11? Is it wrong if you don’t call up your Grandma or Grandpa and tell them “Happy Grandparents Day, I love you!”? What if being here and observing the resurrection of our Lord is more important to you than all of those other things?

How it all started for Christians in gathering on Sunday, the first day of the week was that Jesus died on Good Friday and rose on Sunday. He was in the tomb on Saturday, the seventh day, the Sabbath day. The Sabbath was the day of rest. It was the day the people of God would gather for worship and receive the spiritual rest they needed from God in being forgiven and strengthened in order to serve Him. Now that Jesus had risen on the first day Christians began to gather on that day, as the new day of spiritual rest.

We should be clear. The early Christians were in no way saying it was wrong to keep worshiping on Saturday. They were in no way mandating that Sunday now was the day to worship. What they were doing is saying, Hey, what better day to gather for worship of the living Lord than on the day He rose from the grave? So they switched to Sunday.

On the one hand, today is like any other day. On the other hand, it’s a day of tremendous significance. It was on the first day of the week that Jesus stepped out of His tomb. Sometimes days of other significance fall on a Sunday. Today our nation is observing a day of tremendous significance in 9/11. Our country is one in which we have the freedom to be of whatever religion we want or no religion. But as a citizens of our nation each of us is in it together as we mourn the loss of our fellow citizens and give honor to those who risked and lost their lives in rescuing people in the terrorist attack, as well as a debt of gratitude for those who continue to risk and lose their lives in their duty to defend our country.

It’s an amazing, if ironic, thing about our country that if you don’t wish to observe this day as 9/11 you don’t have to. But we also have the freedom not to pass judgment on those who would rather not observe this day in that way. At the same time, even in our solemnity in the observance of this day we can freely enjoy things we like to do, like watch the football game.

We recognize these things because we see that we have a special nation we live in where we have freedom and where even when our liberty is inhibited we have recourse through the law to rectify the infringement of our rights. Now think in terms of who we are as Christians. As Christians we are citizens of this great land as well as a Kingdom that is not of this world. We can gather here to celebrate and observe an event that far surpasses the significance of 9/11 even as we can join with our fellow citizens and not diminish what this day means for our country. As Christians we see it in an even broader perspective. We see the opportunity we have as Christians to pray for our leaders to work for the welfare of our land. As an opportunity to pray for those who defend the freedom we enjoy. As an opportunity for Christians themselves to serve in government and the Armed Forces and in many other ways that serve God by serving the people He created. And even as an opportunity to pray for our enemies.

As Christians we recognize that life is full of paradox and that’s okay. Today is at the same time like any other day and a day that is to be marked out as special. Think of it this way. In one sense, September 11, 2001, was a day like every other day. Since man fell into sin, creation has been groaning under the heavy burden of sin and evil and the relentless pursuit of Satan to destroy us. Without in any way undermining the enormous tragedy of 9/11, in one sense it is simply one more reminder of the fact that we live in a fallen world and that we are going to continue to see disaster, tragedy, sorrow, pain, and questions of why things must be this way.

Some of us here knew of people who died in the terrorist attacks on 9/11. That brings it closer to home. It’s the same way with those who have lost their loved ones because of the wicked actions of others. It would in fact be shameful to go up to someone who is suffering in this way and tell them that that day is just another day, that it’s like any other. It’s in times like we’re in now where we can step back and look at things in perspective and see that even while some things are not normal day to day occurrences, it’s actually when we’re not experiencing in the moment the effects of death, decay, and tragedy that that’s what is out of the norm.

And that’s why it’s a such a blessing to be here on the first day of each week. Because we need what the people in our Scripture readings received. We need forgiveness. We need the mercy that was bestowed on the brothers of Joseph in the Old Testament reading. We need the canceling of the debt that was received by the servant from the king in the Epistle reading. As much as we suffer and question why tragedies strike, we first and foremost and ultimately need forgiveness. We need the mercy of God. The greatest tragedy of all would be to go to the grave apart from this. Do those who commit horrible crimes need to be brought to justice? Yes they do. There’s no question about that. But they also need forgiveness. We’re the ones who can do that. We have been forgiven. We can forgive. We can be merciful to those who seek our harm. We can cancel the debt others have toward us because our debt to God has been cancelled.

Think about the amazing freedom we have in this! We can freely rejoice in observing days, eating or not eating certain food in honor to God, and we don’t have to worry about doing it out of obligation. This is the way Paul says it in the Epistle reading: “The one who observes the day, observes it in honor of the Lord. The one who eats, eats in honor of the Lord, since he gives thanks to God, while the one who abstains, abstains in honor of the Lord and gives thanks to God.” He then says this: “For none of us lives to himself, and none of us dies to himself. If we live, we live to the Lord, and if we die, we die to the Lord. So then, whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lord’s.” This is the blessed freedom we have in the Lord. We are not our own. We don’t have to worry about what happens to us because we are the Lord’s. Difficulties will come in this life. But we are the Lord’s. In fact, we can with greater clarity observe days as meaningful because our Lord’s coming out of the tomb on Easter Day changed everything. Even as everything is still in decay and creation is groaning under the weight and stress of sin and evil, we can walk through life knowing that we are not our own, we are the Lord’s. Whether we live or whether we die, He has us in His eternal care.

This is what Paul says next: “For to this end Christ died and lived again, that He might be Lord both of the dead and of the living.” At the end of the day, it’s always about Christ. with all the questions, with all the tragedy, with all the evil, with all the sadness, Christ is always who it is all about. He endured it all on the cross. The suffering, the evil, the sorrow, the sin, the debt we owe God. He suffered it. He endured it. He has gone through it. He knows. He knows about 9/11. He knows about what you’re going through in your life. He knows how difficult it is, the things you face. The trials, the sorrow, the questions. He suffered and died for you. He rose for you. He gives you hope in your Baptism. He gives you Himself in His Holy Supper. He gives you peace that goes beyond our human and often frail attempts at understanding and making sense of the world and things that happen in our lives. He knows. He’s above it all, seeing it in its proper perspective. Knowing that He is more powerful than it all even as He has loved us so much that He didn’t just sit there on the sidelines or above it all but entered the fray. Entered the madness, dove into the evil and sorrow of this world, and met it straight on.

On one hand every day is like every other. There are days, though, that do have special significance. As for today, there is one way that this day is unlike any other that has occurred. It’s a new day. All the others are past. But today is still today. We don’t know when our Lord will return in glory, it could be today. But if He continues to wait in patience we have today. It’s not over yet. There’s opportunity today to enjoy the freedom we have in this nation. There’s opportunity to enjoy the freedom we have in Christ. There opportunity to realize that you can call grandma and grandpa today or any day. There’s opportunity to love all of those who are special in your life. There’s opportunity to observe, even if quietly and solemnly, a day of sorrow but also of hope. There’s opportunity to serve. Sometimes it’s in the most horrible of circumstances that we have the greatest opportunities to serve others, even as we know that at times in our worst moments others have served us. This is really what our Lord loves to do.

In a way, every day is like every other day, because that’s really what He’s always about. Amen.


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